Reformation Day – The 31st of October 2017 is a significant date in the history of the church. It is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his so-called “95 Theses” on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517 — an event that sparked a 131-year period of debate, conflict, and reform known as the Reformation. The 95 Theses were in fact an invitation to a debate that was going to be held on the church’s theology and practices concerning the forgiveness of sin, and they stated Luther’s own understanding of the issue, in contrast to the official teaching of the church. Thesis #1, for example, states, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4.17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”.
What began as a debate about one issue gradually escalated into a widespread movement of protest and reform. The reform movement was largely resisted by the leaders of the church, however; and, unfortunately, the leaders of the movement were unable to come to agreement with each other in order to present a unified opposition to the church’s leadership. The result of the Reformation, then, was not a reformed church, as Luther and others had hoped for, but a fragmented church, whose leaders and members argued with and fought against each other. Luther himself died in 1546, but the Reformation continued on until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. By then, the various kingdoms, duchies, and principalities of Europe had each chosen one or other branch of the church to be the legitimate church in their own territory, making Europe look like a religious patchwork quilt. For example, northern Germany and Scandinavia were predominantly Lutheran; Scotland, the northern Netherlands, and parts of Switzerland and Hungary were predominantly Reformed; France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Poland, and southern Germany were predominantly Roman Catholic; and England was predominantly Anglican.
As colonists from various European countries settled in North and South America and other parts of the world, they brought their religious backgrounds with them, and established churches of various denominations in their new homelands. In the past century, the various branches of the church have become more tolerant of each other, recognizing each other as legitimate Christian churches, even if they don’t completely agree with each other’s doctrine (official teaching).